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    To the New Year!

    Jamie Evelyn Goldsborough
    Dec 31, '16 3:07 PM EST

    Brain Pickings

    One of my favorite writers, Maria Popova, has the best "blog" out there, Brain Pickings. I came across BP in undergraduate school when discussing my interest in curatorial work with my professor, Jacob Ristau (now teaching in Visual Communication Design at the Art Institute of Chicago). I literally remember the moment.

    Popova writes on all subjects—art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology—etc. For the New Year, she has a post about her ten year mark with Brain Pickings and how throughout the evolution of BP she has defined core values, or a center of gravity. I try to pass this blog and Popova's writing on to as many people that I think would find it interesting. She has a candid way to explain concepts and thoughts in the simplest form, in a way that I don't think I can solidify on my own. She is a huge inspiration to me because (just like me!) she is interested in so many things—too many things!—that it is both so exciting and so overwhelming for her. She so wonderfully brings it all together, on her own terms, in her own way. It is my ultimate goal to combine all of the things that I find interesting, that I love to study, and that I am passionate about into one place or form. She also keeps the cleanest website, from self-taught coding, without any advertisements! Such a gem.

    Here are Maria's learning moments, core values, life-earned beliefs, or her "center of gravity". All in the order they were written.

    1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
    2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
    3. Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
    4. Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.

      Most important, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking momentdictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?

    5. When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as important, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.
    6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
    7. “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
    8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Patti Smith, in discussing William Blake and her creative influences, talks about writers and artists who magnified her spirit — it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.
    9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. There is much to be said for our responsibility as creators and consumers of that constant dynamic interaction we call culture — which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands — give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.
    10. Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lays dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite. Cynicism often masquerades as nobler faculties and dispositions, but is categorically inferior. Unlike that great Rilkean life-expanding doubt, it is a contracting force. Unlike critical thinking, that pillar of reason and necessary counterpart to hope, it is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive. Life, like the universe itself, tolerates no stasis — in the absence of growth, decay usurps the order. Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. This remains the most potent antidote to cynicism. Today, especially, it is an act of courage and resistance.

    See Maria's original post here, and don't forget to sign-up for her weekly Newsletter. It comes every Sunday morning—the perfect morning read as you sip your coffee.

    For me, 2016 was an unapologetically selfish year. I had an extremely difficult year in 2015—the stress of applying to graduate school (the GRE, fulfilling math requirements, finding the money for up-front purchases, keeping a secret from work), quit my three-year professional career (and salary), started graduate school (scared, nervous, excited), and then unexpectedly went through a horrendous break-up, quickly apartment searched, moved, and then my poor pup got attacked by a pitbull (and healed). So, needless to say, in 2016 I was ready to get a grip on my life.

    But, I don't know what to expect out of 2017. This is the first time (that I can remember) that I have been living in the present, and it is a much more enjoyable approach to life.

    Happy New Year! To new beginnings as you learn from and reminisce the old.



     
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A collection of perspectives, rememberings, and thoughts as a dual Master of Architecture + Master of Arts Design Criticism graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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